20 October 2013

Flying in a MX-2

It was with great happiness (and a little bit of fear) when I finally had the opportunity to park myself in the front seat of an MX-2, for an aerobatic (formation) sortie.

Before we could get going, I first had to figure out the parachute. The last time I was handed a parachute was when I went for a flight in a glider. I know, a parachute while in a glider, doesn’t seem right, right? But anyway, it was quite simple to strap on, and once I understood what to do should I need to bail out (right hand across chest, grab ring, pull), it was time to climb into the red beast.

This in itself is an art. Stand on the step, shake sand and grass off shoe, step on the pilots seat, shake sand and grass off other shoe, climb over the instrument panel, stand on the forward seat, put each foot on the floor by the rudder pedals (being careful not to kick the throttle, or any of the pipes winding their way around the cockpit), hands on either side of the ‘tub’, and lower yourself in. The seat is just a hard bucket-type of thing, and if it weren't for the parachute, it would make for an extremely uncomfortable sitting place (or rather, ‘lying down’ place, as the seat is reclined a fair amount).

Once in, I realised just how small it is. I couldn't rest my arms next to me, as then my elbows will be in the way of the pilot’s feet. I couldn't put my hands in my lap, as the harness and stick are in the way. So my only options were to put my hands on my knees (which I couldn't actually do, because I had my camera with me), or cross my arms (and camera) over my chest. And the latter is what I did, with my feet flat on the floor.

Right, settled, strapped in, nothing in the way of the controls. Time to light the fires!
Taxi-ing is done in the typical zig-zag fashion required for most taildraggers. I don’t know what the pilot sees, but I couldn’t see a thing in front of us (that nose is long!).

The take-off was different to say the least. It really is a beast. Engine roaring, you’re in the air before you know it, climbing like a homesick angel, with the speed steadily increasing. 1000ft, left hand turn, and we’re off to our playground to the east.

Climbing at a pace, I keep my eyes forward, occasionally looking left and right. Catching something out the corner of my eye, I look back, and hello, there’s the Sbach, sitting on the wing. I’ve done some formation flying before, but nothing like this! Everything is bigger, faster, closer, and it is so different to the few flights I did in an RV-8. You can’t even really compare the two.

Then came the real fun.
 Formation is one thing, aerobatics is another, formation aerobatics... are just out of this world. For quite a while, I didn’t bother taking photos; pulling 3G’s while trying to turn back and take photos just seemed too risky for me, so I kept my arms crossed across my chest, being sure to hold on to the shoulder harness, and not to grab the parachute’s handle by accident.

After a while I figured out what to expect from each manoeuvre, and felt comfortable enough to try snap a few photos. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy, and I couldn’t get the entire Sbach in the frame. And when I did, the reflections from the canopy wreaked havoc with the shot. Oh well!

On the way back, we switched positions, and I managed to get a few decent photos of the Sbach. Those aircraft really are just beasts!

After a quick break, it was time for the next sortie. Arms already feeling sore from holding the camera, I decided to take the GoPro instead of the huge stills camera; a much better choice. This time the Sbach led, and we were number 2.

After take-off, and closing up on him, I thought “There’s no way we’re going to slow down; we’re going to shoot straight past”. As we got closer, Mark reduced the power, and the MX slowed down immediately. It was as if we had thrown out an airbrake.

Sitting on the Sbach’s wing, I got filming, occasionally eyeing the mountains of the Jonkershoek Valley. Straight and level wasn’t exciting enough for Mark, and while taking in the world, I realised that it had started to rotate.
 Well hello, we just rolled over the Sbach. A little unexpected, but an awesome feeling nonetheless.

We did a few more of these, and I tried my best to film it, but the video really doesn’t do it justice. But wow, what a feeling, and the view was spectacular!

I had some other ramblings, but I've decided to delete them and let the photos and video do the talking.

This is what happens when you take two high performance aircraft, check in some turbulence, two experienced pilots, and have some fun. The only problem now is... I want more!